Today's Place to Daydream About: Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina
Nahuel Huapi National Park surrounds surrounds Nahuel Huapi Lake in the foothills of the Patagonian Andes. It is Argentina's oldest national park, founded in 1916 and given its current name in 1934.
The first Spaniards to see the lake wandered into the mountains in 1552 searching for "el Ciudad de Los Cesares," a South American version of el Dorado. Instead they found this amazingly beautiful place; do you suppose they appreciated it?
In the second half of the 1800s Argentina boomed, an expansion driven by railroads and massive European immigration. Some of those immigrants rode the railroad into Patagonia and decided that the lakes and mountains looked like Switzerland. The resolved to make the lake district a tourist hub.
In 1902 they built a town at the lower end of the lake, called Barriloche. As you can see, they tried to make it look Swiss; they even established chocolate factories. These still endure and the town hosts an annual chocolate festival.
Barriloche remains the gateway to the National Park and the rest of the district, which also includes ski resorts and the other paraphernalia of mountain tourism.
So you can visit Nahuel Huapi on the civilized track, staying in the town and venturing out for day hikes, or on a cruise around the lake.
Or you can leave civilization behind on a trek of up to a week into the wild mountains.
Either way the park is immense and gorgeous, with an area of 7,050 km2 (2,720 sq mi), or nearly 2 million acres.. It spans several different biomes, from dry pampas at the low end
through forests that rival New England's for autumn color
to high mountains and glaciers.
Animals include condors and the endangered Huillin or South American river otter.
One of the notable sights in the forests is the strange parasitic fungus known as llao llao, after which the oldest hotel in Barioche is named. One species of this, Cyttaria darwinii, was first described by Charles Darwin during his voyage on the Beagle.
On one peninsula in the lake is a separate national park known as Los Arrayanes which protects a grove of 300-year-old arrayanes trees.
In you can kayak the lake, raft down one of the wild rivers, and climb tall mountains with names like el Tronador.